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Kim Hye Soo's glamourous figure invites you to check this K-cinema post

Revival of Korean movies

This is the 14th in a 15-part series on the stars and trends in “Hallyu” or Korean wave, which is gaining global popularity in Southeast Asia and Latin America. The Korea Times produces this special project in cooperation with the Korean Foundation and CJ E&M. ― ED.
If the 10-million milestone in Korean film industry is a good barometer, the Korean film industry is enjoying yet another renaissance since making it big in the early 2000s. 
The biggest hit of this year is “The Thieves,” which was released in July. The heist film directed by Choi Dong-hoon with an all-star cast including Kim Hye-soo and Jun Ji-hyun currently has been seen by 13.02 million people, beating out “The Host” (2006) that attracted 13.01. 

“Old Boy” (2003)

It’s also the sixth film to surpass the 10 million mark in the history of Korean cinema.Following closely on its heel is “Masquerade” starring Korean heartthrob Lee Byung-hun and directed by Choo Chang-min. After a little over a month since its release, some 9 million have watched the movie and the number is expected to rise.
“The movie simply reaped the success of the Korean-style blockbuster,” Jung Duk-hyun, a popular culture critic, said Monday during a telephone interview. “It’s one of the two major currents in mainstream Korean cinema today along with what we call well-made films. Now, Korean cinema has a full system set up to produce such commercial blockbusters, which audiences love to watch these days.
Aside from these commercial hits, Korea’s auteur director Kim Ki-duk’s bleak-morality tale won the Golden Lion for best movie at the 69th Venice Film Festival. His film, “Pieta,” has also been submitted as a foreign language candidate for the Oscars. 
Korean films initially appeared on the international cinema circuit around the turn of the 20th century. A number of Korean movies were already enjoying global attention before “hallyu,” or the Korean Wave, took Asia by storm with K-pop songs and television dramas. Quality films like Kang Je-kyu’s “Swiri” (1998), Park Chan-wook’s “Joint Security Area” (2000), and “My Sassy Girl” (2001) are among them. But the big spotlight came particularly with Park’s “Old Boy” (2003). Since then, the world’s attention shifted toward K-pop. 
“Korean culture has received a warm reception from around the world thanks to K-pop that paved the way to enter the world market for films and television miniseries, and it pushed up exports,” film critic Park Woo-sung said Monday.
Also Korean directors are making successful inroads in Hollywood, if the ability to cast A-listers can attest to this. Park and Bong have shot new movies in the United States with big Hollywood names. Park cast stars like Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode for “Stoker,” which will be released next year. Director Kim Jee-woon also recently shot his new film “Last Stand” (set to be released on Jan. 18, 2013) in the world’s biggest film market with actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Forest Whitaker.
The rise in K-films is invariably linked to Hollywood as well.
“Hollywood has gradually been losing its monopoly so it is looking for new subject matter from abroad and Korea is one of the attractive markets for remake rights,” said Jung. 
Amid such a spike in the popularity of domestic films, movie exports are booming, reaching $15.8 million in 2011, a 13.8 percent increase year-on-year.
A total of 358 movies were exporte
d, 82 more than last year. It reversed a six-year contraction. 
More Korean films are premiering at international film festivals. “The Thieves” has been selected to open the London Korean Film Festival and will close the Paris Korean Film Festival in November. It was sold to such Asian countries as China, Singapore and Thailand even before its release here and is also set to be released in 12 cities worldwide including Los Angeles and New York. 
The country has also been the host of various film festivals. The Busan International Festival, which closed Saturday, has positioned itself as the biggest of its kind in Asia and eighth biggest in the world since 1996. The Jeonju International Film Festival, which debuted in 2001, focuses on digital, independent and art films. Other well-known events include the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, the International Women’s Film Festival and the Jechon International Music & Film Festival. 
“Cinema is positioned as one of the must-do leisure activities in Korea and audiences tend to go for more popular films like Korean-style blockbusters than art movies or independent films these days,” Park Woo-sung said. “But this phenomenon won’t do anything good to develop the industry. Korean cinema should focus on its quality and content rather than just trying to go global and following trends.”
History of cinema in Korea
Korean cinema dates back to 1903 when people paid to watch moving pictures of scenery from Korea and abroad in Dongdaemun, eastern Seoul. In 1919, the first Korean film was made, a kino-drama “Fight for Justice” directed by Kim do-san. After that such silent Korean movies as “Arirang” (1926) were produced over the next few years with better techniques and production values. 
When the Park Chung-hee administration took office in the 1960s, seen as a golden age, it pushed a program of state-led industrialization and economic development in every area of society and cinema was no exception. It ushered in a more stable system through corporation-style production so companies cranked out films, spanning a wide variety of genres. Notable movies in this era include “Aimless Bullet” (1961) by Yu Hyun-mok, “Mother and A Guest” (1961) by Shin Sang-ok and “Sound of Magpies” (1967) by Kim Soo-yong. Korean film has been through many twists and turns since the golden age and finally regained its momentum.
By Rachel Lee The Korea Times
Sources : Hancinema's photo Gallery "The Thieves" official photoshoot 

[HanCinema's Film Talk] Is Korean Cinema Soft on Sex?


I don't know what it was exactly about the sex scene in Kim Dae-woo's 2010 remake of the "The Servant" that captivated my interest and senses. Perhaps it was the enchanting realisation/sexual release of the film's own internal eroticisms and sexual pressures or, admittedly, the 'cinematic purity' of the act itself as expressed through both the Choon-hyang's erotised body. Indeed, Jo Yeo-jeong's physical facets, and willingness, have contributed to her popularity as an actress both in Korea and abroad. I not be so brave as to say that she might have inadvertently typecasted herself as Korea's own cinematic exhibitionist, but her recent role in Kim Dae-seung's "The Concubine" seemed to play off that image as an 'erotic icon' as her sexual agency was, once again, commodified through another historical Korean drama that taunted and teases its way through the prickly plane of sexual representation.

"The Concubine" did not, however, managed to encapsulate the culture depth and erotic significance of Kim Dae-woo's modernised enactment of the Korean myth of Chann-hyang. In fact, the representation of sexual acts in recent years has seemed to be unable to transgress from Korea's own modern conservatism. Instead Korean cinema has shied away from the depiction of sexual acts, choosing instead to localised sexual agency in the 'social spaces' of Korean cinematic discourse. This is not to say that Korean cinema's depiction of sex and sexual acts requires more flashes of flesh, not at all. Instead what we are seeing play out is a complex negotiation between Korea's own national sense-of-self and how that is problematised within the current discourse of trans-nationalism and global identity.

In Kyung Hyun-kim's "The Remasculinisation of Korean Cinema" the issue of psycho-social sexual discourse within Korean cinema is comprehensively encapsulated through an array of interesting case studies. The essays within contain a strong argument for how modern Korean cinema has had to re-constitute the sexual discourse of agency within the framework of modernism and the post-colonial gaze. Suggesting that Korean cinema after the 1980s saw a resurgence of male authority and their position of power with contemporary Korean culture. In his introduction Kyung outlines this phenomena as follows:

"The New Korean Cinema of the last two decades has increasingly pursued themes, characterisations, and narratives that centre on a particular notion of subjectivity: the image of an individual modern man desperate to free himself from institutional repression, familiar responsibilities, and personal anxieties"

Recent Korean films such as "Masquerade""The Concubine" and "The Scent" suggests that the re-masculinisation of Korean cinema is still riddled with the anxiety and institutionalised 'othering' of the Korean male within traditional modes of sexual representation. While perhaps issues of male identity and potency within Korean culture once struggled against the front lines of modernity and Korea's "Westernisation", Korea's more immediate cinematic offerings seem to have withdrawn from the socio-political progression and re-imagining of male sexual authority discussed in Kyung's book. There seems to be a reluctance to flaunt cinema's predisposed gendering of the camera's gaze as Korea's own trans-national sexual identity is showcased on the world's stage.

The comparison between other national cinema movements (such as New French Extremism or Europe's trend to default to post-modern rendering of neo-realism) seems unfair in this regard; but the degree to which Korea's own national cinema differs/corresponds to international trends is symptomatic of the rapidity through which Korea has advanced within the globalised world it fought so hard to become established in. Issues of the female body, national victimisation, male impotency and the rise of feminism both in art and cultural, leads this discussion towards a more 'open world assumption' on sexuality and power relationships that constitute its being and becoming in Korean films.

Consider the process of sexual engagement in most Korean dramas. Our male protagonists all seem to possess a 'fatal flaw' of inadequacy that is circumnavigated through the recent rises in female agency and independence on screen. No longer is the male hero endowed with power to possess and successful procure the objectified female; rather the process of sexual exploration and satisfaction is mediated between the male insecurity, competency, sexual anxiety, and a newly place power of femininity and their own sense of sexual empowerment. 'Womanhood' is this light has been, albeit through the subversion of cinematic projection, task with embodying Korea's own progressive idealisations of equality and gendered sexual homeostasis.

This all takes places through Korea cinema's own contemporary narrative characterisations and discourse. Woman as sexual 'objects' are paired with an alluring frustration and represent both gratification and the shame of male conquest. The result is the contrast between 'interior' and 'exterior' sexual representation of engagement and wish-fulfilment. Rarely is the act of sex itself portrayed on screen, and when it is the parameters through which it is realised are suggestive, implicit manifestations of desire rather than complete dominance of the female form and body. The explicit acts that we find in film's like "The Servant" seemed to have, in retrospect, hit the 'glass ceiling' of Korea's own conservatism and rigid social-sexual expectations.

Male anxiety in Korean cinema also speaks to the rise of subversive feminist concerns, as the psycho-sexual agency is problematised within Korean cinema under the guise of male 'appropriateness' and hyper-masculine orientations and needs. To display and dominate, even forcefully engage, the female form is to acknowledge both the current 'lack' of male potency, as represented by sexual enactments and the chase, and the female object as something other than that which can be possessed. In this vein it is common in Korean films to see contrasting male identities that are marked but the gendered context in which they exist. Groups of Korean males are often seem to hold themselves to some extended sense of 'hyper-masculinity" as they playfully threaten and 'mock charge' their peers. All the while presenting the chance for the male viewers to 'over-indentify' with their manliness and the idealised patriarchal order embedded within their national identity. However that shell of masculinity is subverted when, especially in Korean dramas and romantic comedies, the female object is declared as desirable. The 'pursuit' of the female form, and subsequently the pleasure they represent, is shrouded in a 'fetishistic disavowal' of sorts as the anxiety/desire of patriarchy order attempts to safeguard contemporary Korean sexual identity and discourse.

The female object in Korean cinema constantly challenges the male right to possession and dominance. The protection of the female's chastity thus becomes the concerns of both the male and female, this 'cat-and-mouse' interaction that appears to always precede any sexual gratification and is a hallmark of Korean sexual cinematic discourse. Here Korea's contemporary perspective on sexuality can be questioned and examined, as both male and female entities negotiate the 'safeness' of their encounters. Here I am referring to Korean cinema's apparent need to almost 'save face' on the silver screen as sex is represented not so much through the depiction of bodies in motion, but rather through projection and sexualised abstractions of the act itself. Off-screen 'action' is often favoured and serves both as a conservative self-serving phenomena, and, perhaps more paradoxically, projects the illusion of both male authority, sexual right and the empowerment of this newly constituted female order and prevalence with the power-structure of the spectacle.

The question I wanted to raise with these points is that is Korean cinema being too safe with sex and its representation within the mainstream circuit? Korea has undergone such rapid changes over the last 60 years that is it hard to imagine how such a traditionally conservative nation address globalised issues of gender, sex, and power. Recent news reports have shown that gender equality and the social status of men and women is under threat, with an increasing intolerance for sexually related discrimination and gender-based social structuring. Woman are throwing back comments on buses and trains when they feel they are being objectified and even openly challenging social hierarchies and patriarchy. Issues of female identity and empowerment have filtered into Korea's cinema and the results and the responses from both sides of bed have been fascinating. While male anxiety and apprehension over the future is almost palpable, Korean woman seem to be exercising their right to fall on either side of their cultural 'objectification'; either asserting independence and a newly found social sense of power, or embracing their objectification in service of their own needs and desires. Indeed the course of sexual politics within Korea is in a clear process of becoming, as the struggle between national identity and the social make-up of sexual discourse and agency continues to present new challenges to filmmakers and their audiences.

  * Christopher is a film writer and a graduate arts student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He lived and worked in South Korea for four years and there he channeled his passion for film into the Korean cinema scene. Driven by his rampant cinephilic needs and Korea's vibrant cinema, Chris now enjoys watching Korean films and writing about what he thinks of them.

- C.J Wheeler (
Source : HanCinema

Tags: actor/actress, drama, lee byung-hun, movie, park chan-wook

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